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Coronavirus Pandemic Has Shown that Mediterranean Europe Does Not Need THE EU

By Paul Antonopoulos

Global Research,

Germany’s long history of wanting to rule the entirety of Europe extends back to both World Wars in the 20th Century, and perhaps even earlier. The German political structures believed that through war and conquest it could dominate the continent – this of course lacked any realism. Even with Germany’s defeat in World War II, it still did not abandon this ambition, albeit, it was not possible for many decades because of U.S. dominance on the continent and the Soviet counterweight.

However, Germany played the long game and with the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, Berlin signed the “4 + 2 Treaty” on October 3, 1990 to unify capitalist West Germany with communist East Germany. With unification achieved, then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl made the next steps for Germany to dominate Europe, the signing of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that brought to life the European Union and opened the path for the Euro Dollar.

Eight years later, then-German Foreign Minister Joska Fischer during a speech at the Humboldt University in Berlin said that German and European unification were two sides of the same coin, openly admitting that the European Union is inseparable to Germany. With more than a quarter of the Eurozone’s wealth in German hands, there is little doubt that Berlin’s quest to dominate Europe is finding more success through the Western liberal model of open borders and a “shared” market rather than through military might and conquest. It is now appearing though that Germany is beginning to lose control of the dominance it once had over the continent though. France, Italy and Britain served as balance to West Germany, but that balance was tilted towards Germany after unification, and especially now since Brexit.

Britain of course first comes to mind when we think of the dissolvement of the European Union. Although Britain is a wealthy and powerful country to lose, and there is no doubt it caused a major blow to the pan-European project, Britain maintained some semblance of sovereignty by maintaining the Pound and not adopting the neo-Mark, the Euro Dollar. Germany’s economic power also correlates with its political strength, which one of its main drivers is the Euro Dollar.Germany’s Dominant Role in the European Union

The countries touted as potentials to follow Britain are the three Mediterranean countries of Spain, Portugal and Greece. This is of no surprise as these are the three countries most affected by the Global Financial Crisis in 2009 and onwards. Although they are economically and politically weaker than Germany, ironically enough they are the only countries capable of serving as a potential counterweight to German dominance of the European Union.

Northern and central Europe in one way or another are directly tied to Germany, while the Mediterranean countries have a separation in geography, culture and history. Although French initiatives to contain German dominance in the European Union led to the European Central Bank and the Common Agricultural Policy, it has not only failed, but allowed Germany to control these institutions as well. France is limited in its capabilities as it is the only major power to border Germany and has a history of direct conflict when German nationalism became out of control and extremified.

Therefore, cooperation between Mediterranean Europe can pose the biggest challenge to German hegemony in Europe. Of course, there is the challenge that the interests of Spain, Portugal and Greece are not identical, but each have suffered immensely by German-imposed austerity and economic policy. The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that Germany is not willing to assist European Union member countries in times of crisis and that rather it serves its own interest first and foremost, just as it always has under the illusions of European unity.

Powerbrokers in Lisbon, Madrid and Athens must seriously consider methods on how best to achieve their own sovereignty to serve their own state interests instead of being under the domination of Berlin’s interests. The Mediterranean connects Europe, Asia and Africa together, meaning it occupies an extremely strategic space – far more strategic states than those who border Germany such as the Czech Republic or the Netherlands for example. By cooperating to achieve sovereignty, Mediterranean Europe will have far more leverage against Germany as it serves as a gateway to two other continents.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that a divorce from Germany best serves the interest of Mediterranean Europe and has highlighted two facts; Spain was ignored and abandoned by Germany when the pandemic began, while Greece which was crippled by German and IMF-imposed austerity in the previous decade has shown that it can overcome challenges without European Union assistance with its impressive handling of the coronavirus.

Although Italy is a Mediterranean country, it is unlikely they will want to abandon the European Union project as it has the ambition to become “the Germany of the Mediterranean.” Portugal itself is also being devastated by the coronavirus but its present and future is always tied with that of Spain. Greece’s confidence in how it handled the pandemic and Spain’s disappointment with the German response for assistance should make these Mediterranean countries seriously consider their future in the European Union and whether a Mediterranean cooperation would better serve their interests.

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The World’s Waste-Pickers Under Threat

New waste management policies undermine the informal recycling sector in the Global South.   
by: Barcelona Research Group on Informal Recyclers

Waste pickers oppose policies that exclude them from their source of livelihood: recyclable waste. (Photo: Global Alliance of Waste Pickers)

Waste pickers oppose policies that exclude them from their source of livelihood: recyclable waste. (Photo: Global Alliance of Waste Pickers)On the occasion of the Global Waste Picker Day (March 1st), the Barcelona Research Group on Informal Recyclers—in collaboration with EnvJustice, the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers and WIEGO—releases a thematic map of socio-environmental conflicts in the Global South related to informal recyclers, whose livelihoods are put at greater risk due to a global policy shift towards waste management privatization that limits their access to recyclables.

This map (below) documents socio-environmental conflicts involving waste pickers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is a selection of over 50 conflicts from the Environmental Justice Atlas in which waste pickers, citizens and civil society groups are resisting and fighting for social and environmental justice. The map gives visibility to the growing injustices in the waste management sector resulting from wider public policy trends related to privatization, incineration and access restriction in urban space. The conflicts visualize who loses and who benefits from these policy shifts – showing how profits are privatized and how costs are socialized. Waste, once a commons of the poor, is rapidly being converted into a commodity. The social and environmental impacts of this process are closely intertwined, notably pollution and loss of livelihood.

The world is continuously producing more and more waste, with consequent serious health and environmental impacts. In urban areas, domestic waste is accumulating at an even faster pace and landfills fill up quickly. Public authorities, in a desperate attempt to manage the unmanageable, implement new waste management models that are capital-intensive and technology-driven at the cost of more socio-ecologically sustainable alternatives provided by waste pickers. 

Historically, waste pickers have been confronted with dangerous working conditions, social marginalization and persecution. This map shows how this precarious situation is now being worsened by a number of threats that, often as a result of global policy shifts, limit their access to recyclable waste. In what follows, we detail, first, the environmental and social contributions of waste pickers, second, the threats that undermine their livelihood, and third, their forms of resistance to these socio-environmental injustices. In times of crisis, threats to waste pickers are threats to humankind

Waste pickers’ social, environmental and economic contributions

Waste pickers contribute to local economies and the inclusion of socially marginalized groups, to public health and safety, and to environmental sustainability. The informal recycling sector in the Global South sustains a livelihood for about 19 to 24 million people, according to the ILO1. Although historically invisibilized, waste pickers around the world contribute to protecting the earth by collecting, sorting, and selling discarded materials found by door-to-door collection, on the streets, in containers and landfills. Their skills and knowledge about different materials such as metals, plastics, and paper enables them to re-valorize, re-use and extend the life of items cast aside. Their recycling rates are typically high, in the range from 20 to 50 percent, often higher than those achieved by municipal or private companies. In countries like Brazil or South Africa waste pickers do 90 percent of all recycling. In some countries, they are strongly organized in cooperatives and associations, enabling them to voice their claims towards the broader public, engage with civil society and even formally take up municipal waste services. In brief, despite the fact that they provide services to society completely free of cost, their work and rights often only remain insufficiently recognized.

Waste pickers are under threat

In the last decade, threats to waste picker livelihoods in the Global South have been triggered by capital-intensive and technology-driven public policy shifts towards privatization and formalization of the urban waste management sector. We can identify three main types of conflicts: incineration, privatization and urban space restrictions. 

First, technologies such as incineration are typically proposed as “sustainable” solutions to unsolved waste management problems, with large public subsidies from the Clean Development Mechanism. The first incinerator in Africa was built in Ethiopia in 2018 with Chinese investment and Danish technology. National bans on incineration are being challenged from the Philippines to Mexico. Incinerators are popping up like mushrooms, but they might be toxic ones. In cities like Delhiwaste pickers protest against them because they do not want to see their livelihood burnt, while citizens fear air pollution. In terms of climate change, while waste pickers cool down the earth, incinerators warm it up.

Second, companies are now realizing that waste has a monetary value – something that waste pickers have been aware of for decades. This, for example, results in privatization of landfills that displace waste pickers, sometimes leading to violent attacks and repression like in Johannesburg. The closure of problematic landfills has often led to the simple shifting of environmental damage (e.g. Belém and Rio de Janeiro). In general, privatization and the imposition of formal criteria in the public contracting for municipal waste management services have made lives harder for informal waste pickers (e.g. Cairo and Cape Coast). 

Third, restrictions in urban space result into discriminatory impacts on waste pickers such as the prohibition of animal- or human-drawn vehicles (e.g. in Porto Alegre and Montevideo) or the installation of “anti-poor”, “smart” containers (e.g. Buenos Aires and Bogota). In the name of modern, beautiful and hygienic city centers, waste pickers are denied access to certain urban areas, like in Phnom Penh

Resistance and mobilisation for social and environmental justice 

Waste pickers oppose policies that exclude them from their source of livelihood: recyclable waste. They struggle for social rights and the formal inclusion into municipal waste management to escape from precarious and dangerous conditions. They collectively organize to vizibilize their environmental services due to recycling, to fight discrimination and to empower their community. The largest mobilizations can be found in Latin American countries, but also in South Africa and India, among others.

The Global Alliance of Waste Pickers, supported by the NGO WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing), is committed to support and strengthen organizations of more than 28 countries that form part of the network. Their aim is to include waste pickers as “actors in decision-making processes, with the goal of improving working conditions for their community, developing knowledge and capacity-building activities, and seeking the recognition and professionalization of their work”. Struggles against incineration have led to the emergence of civil society groups, many of them networked in the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, which has also been supportive of waste pickers and communities fighting against incineration.

While recognition for waste pickers’ contributions is growing in some places, most continue to face social marginalization and highly unsuitable working and living conditions. They often get little support from local governments, who in many cases fail to formally recognize the work and contributions of waste pickers, and instead further restrict their access to waste. Waste picker struggles for social and environmental justice hence continue at various fronts.

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The Catalan Crisis Threatens to Reopen a Debate That the EU’s Power Brokers Thought They Had Long Ago Quashed

by THOMAS S. HARRINGTON

Photograph Source: Elaine Larkin – CC BY 2.0

Though it is largely forgotten today, there was during the late 80s and early 90s a vigorous debate in numerous sectors of European life about whether the EU would be best structured as a Union of Regions or as a Union of States.

Adherents of the first posture hoped and believed that the goal the then still-emerging Union should be to greatly lessen the importance of existing national boundaries and governments and to promote, or at least not stand in the way of, the emergence of new economic and social regions. For example, since the Galician region of Spain shares much in the way of language culture and geography with neighboring northern Portugal, it should, according to this outlook, be free to loosen existing bonds with far-away Madrid and direct more of its resources and infrastructural aims toward forging economic and social integration with nearby and traditionally dynamic Oporto.

This, of course, frightened the proponents of a Europe of States, who quite rightly saw such developments as a threat to dramatically diminish the prerogatives of existing governments.

For reasons that are too numerous to examine fully here, but that include bureaucratic inertia, and the desire of an always meddling US to have the ability to play states off against each other both within a dramatically-expanded NATO and the EU as a whole, the idea of the Europe of Regions was eventually bludgeoned into insignificance by the proponents of a Europe of the States.

Yet, for all their success in neutering the practical day-to-day effects of a Europe of Regions, the proponents of the Europe of States were unable to fully disable certain institutions, such as the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, forged and/or strengthened in the early years of the EU, and whose structure implicitly militated against the continuing weight and hegemony of state governments within the overall functioning of the confederation.

For example, while a candidate for the European Parliament nominally “comes from” one or another member state, voters from any jurisdiction in the Union can select him or her on the ballot. He or she is thus not only a representative of, say, Spain and the Spanish citizens, but of the European people as a whole.

And while almost all justice is still meted out by state-based judicial systems, these state systems are, since the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, subsidiary to the European Court of justice in matters pertaining to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

And this last matter reality is why the long-dormant debate over the underlying nature and structure of Union is coming to the fore once again. The catalyzing factor in re-opening the debate was the decision was a decision handed down by the European Court of Justice late last year.

The Junqueras Case

In the early hours of December 19th, 2019, the European Court of justice ruled that Oriol Junqueras, who on October 14th 2019 was condemned to 13 years in prison for his role in promoting a peaceful referendum on independence in Catalonia, had, in fact, had possessed full legal immunity from the moment of the certification of his election to the European Parliament four months earlier, and thus should have been released from detention at that time to take his seat in that body, and quite probably should never been condemned to the long sentence handed down in the Fall.

A case on one lucky guy finally getting a little bit of justice? Far from it.

The Long-Troubled Relationship Between Catalonia and Spain

Though Catalonia was incorporated into a centralized Spain three centuries ago, its fit within that State has never been without tensions owing, among other things, to differences of language, social structure, economic models (Catalonia has always been considerably more commercially and industrially oriented than the rest of Spain), and approaches to governance. Catalonia was, for example, one of the first polities in Europe to see the many impose limits on the exercise of monarchical power by the few, accomplishing this feat a number of years before the signing of the English Magna Carta in 1215.

Spain, led by its central kingdom of Castile, has, on the other hand, consistently tended much more to toward top-down and force-driven approaches to resolving conflicts over the apportionment of civic powers. It is thus not surprising that Catalan revolts (e.g 1700-1714, 1836-1843, 1906-1923, 1931-39) against central power have been a recurrent part of Spanish life during the era of the centralized state. Nor is it surprising that Castilian-led government in Madrid has often used the full complement of military and legal force at its disposal to quell these uprisings.

The latest such revolt began in 2010 when the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal overturned a new more expansive Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia within the constitutional order established three years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco’s 1975. In keeping with the rules of the 1978 Constitution, the Catalan political leadership had, after writing the new Statute, submitted the text to both the Catalan Parliament and the Spanish parliament in Madrid for approval. After passage through these legislative bodies, it was returned to the Catalan people, who approved it by a sizable margin in a popular referendum

The Judicialization of Politics, or the Resurfacing of the Spanish Deep State

But while this relatively insignificant rise in regional power pleased many in Catalonia, it alarmed many elements of José María Aznar’s Popular Party (PP)—a configuration formed in no small measure by the sons and daughters of Francoist families—, as well as the country’s judiciary whose Francoist structures and Francoist sociology had remained largely intact during Spain’s then three decade-old democracy. Confident that their ideological allies in the judiciary would know how to “do the right thing” when called upon, the PP lodged a constitutional challenge to the new statute. Though it took them more than three years to do it, the Spanish courts delivered exactly what the PP had hoped and expected: the nullification of key elements of the new law.

And when this occurred in the summer of 2010, Catalan citizens took to the streets in massive numbers to protest what they saw as a backhanded and back-channel abridgement not only of their voting franchise, but also the democratic constitution upon it was based.

Over the next decade the number of Catalans endorsing secession from Spain grew exponentially. In 2014, the government of Artur Mas, a man who had never been in favor of independence, responded to the popular clamor by organizing a non-binding straw vote on the matter over the objections of the central government. For his efforts in promoting this non-binding test of public opinion Mas was condemned by the Spanish judiciary to a two-year ban on holding public office and large fines designed destroy his personal finances.

In the Fall of 2015, the combined independence forces gained a majority in the Catalan parliament. And starting in early 2016, the new government, now under the leadership of Carles Puigdemont, made clear its desire to promote a second, but this time binding, vote on independence. Puigdemont hoped that such a vote could be staged, as had been done in Quebec and Scotland in recent years, with the approval of the central government. But each time he broached he matter with Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy (PP) he was haughtily rebuffed.

Knowing that the Spanish government would be keen to indict any member of his government who could be seen as using government funds or manpower to promote such a vote, Puigdemont left the organization of the vote on October 1st, 2017 completely in the hands of Catalonia’s powerful and very widely subscribed civil society groups. Meanwhile, the Spanish government geared up, as its Vice President, and widely acknowledged holder of the Catalan portfolio, Soraya Sanz de Santamaría later crowed in December 2017, to “decapitate” the Catalan independence movement through a show of armed force and the use of lawfare. In the days leading to the vote, several thousand members of the quasi-military national police forces were sent to Catalonia as a show of force.

And when on the morning of the of October 1st civil society volunteers placed the ballot boxes that they had clandestinely distributed throughout the Catalan region in polling stations, the police went on the offensive, frenetically clubbing, and in at least a thousand documented cases, seriously injuring unarmed voters and their supporters.

Despite this brazen physical intimidation the turnout was 43%. However, this number does not include the estimated 15% of the ballots that were carried off by police. When those are included we speak of a turn-out of some 55%–58% with an overwhelmingly plurality (80-90%) of that cohort expressing their support for independence.

With this strong showing in hand, Puigdemont once again sent out feelers to the Spanish government regarding a negotiated settlement. When nothing was forthcoming, the Catalan Parliament, following his lead, declared independence from Spain on October 27th, 2017.

The Spanish government in Madrid responded by suspending Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy and indicting the members of a the Catalan government on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds. Believing the Spanish government would never give them a fair trial, one faction of the cabinet, led by President Puigdemont, fled into exile in Belgium. Another faction, led by Vice President Oriol Junqueras stayed in Spain and was quickly remanded into pre-trial detention without bail.

Under pressure, it has been suggested, from Angela Merkel’s government in Berlin, Rajoy scheduled new Catalan elections for December 21st, 2017. He did so clearly believing that after his government’s October show of force, the Catalans would “come back to their senses” and elect a pro-Unionist legislature. To his enormous surprise, the pro-independence forces renewed their hold on the legislature. The exiled Carles Puigdemont was now the president-elect of Catalonia.

In the run-up to that December vote, the Spanish point man on the Catalan case Judge Pablo Llarena sought to have Puigdemont and his fellow cabinet members extradited back to Spain on the three charges mentioned above. However, during his own review of the case, the Belgian judge made quite clear that, given the complete absence of violence on the part of the Catalan leadership during the October days, he saw no basis for extradition on the charge of rebellion. And since antiquated crime of sedition was no longer on the books in his country, he also saw no basis for extradition on that charge either. He did, however signal his openness to the idea of extradition on the charge of misuse of public funds.

But before the Belgian court could release his full formal decision, Llarena hastily pulled back his extradition request. He and his fellow Spanish magistrates clearly had the promulgation of a harsh “exemplary” sentence in mind for Puigdemont. The prospect of a trial for the “mere” misuse of funds—a misuse of funds by the way that both Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy and his Finance Minister Cristóbal Montoro had publicly sworn before Parliament had not occurred—would not do.

With Puigdemont’s poised to be sworn-in by videoconference as president of Catalonia late January 2018, Llarena simply invented two “principles” with no basis in Spanish Constitutional law to prevent it from happening. The first was to prevent all the elected parliamentarian in pre-trial detention or exile from taking their seats in parliament, a clear violation of the principle created by the Yoldi case in 1987. When the pro-independence majority rejiggered their parliamentary lists to sidestep that ruling, he then ruled that a candidate for investiture must be physically present in the chamber to take his or her oath. He would go on to scuttle two further presidential candidacies in the coming months on through similarly questionable means. It would take until May of 2018 and a fourth presidential candidate with no pending judicial charges against him, Joaquim Torra, for the pro-independence government to be seated again in the Catalan Parliament.

In the meantime, Llarena sought redemption for his initial defeat at the hands of the Belgian judiciary. On March 25th 2018, Puigdemont was detained in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein while being driven back to Belgium from a speaking engagement in Finland. Unbeknownst to him, Spanish intelligence agents had, acting without authorization of Belgian authorities and thus in apparent violation of Belgian law, had placed a geo-locator on his vehicle. When he entered Germany from Denmark he was stopped and detained by German authorities working on a tip from the Spanish intelligence agents and imprisoned in the town of Neumünster.

After 12 days behind bars, however, the German court, like the Belgian court before it said that extradition on the basis of the charge of rebellion was inadmissible and released him from detention. Like the Belgian court before it left open the possibility of an extradition for misuse of public funds. But with the possibility of the much-desired “exemplary sentence” once again out of his grasp, Llarena declined to further pursue a transfer on the basis of the lesser charge.

Catalonia: For the Socialists , Simply a Matter of Better Public Relations

Rather than heed these warnings about the hysterical nature of the Spanish judiciary’s vision of the Catalan question, the Spanish media and opinion-making establishment simply demonized the German judiciary, and doubled down on its ridicule of the Catalan nationalists.

Those know-nothings from Germany, they argued from the pages of both left and right-leaning “prestige” outlets, simply did not understand what was going on in their very special nation. The key to turning the situation around, according to these establishment thinkers, lay in improving the country’s public relations apparatus in other countries.

This is what led to the creation to what might be called the hasbara phase of the crisis. When, in a surprising turn of events, the Socialist party came to power in Spain on the basis of a no-confidence vote in the summer of 2018, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez quickly established Global Spain, a government funded propaganda agency designed specifically to a) portray the Catalan independence movement as wholly illegitimate and authoritarian b) endlessly repeat the mantra that Spain was a “consolidated democracy” on a par with any other in the Western world.

That using government funds to demonize several million of your own citizens—citizens you constantly claim you are simply Spaniards like yourself with whom you want to live in peace forever—might not be advisable, or that truly “consolidated” democracies rarely have to run around the world insistently proclaiming to be such a thing, never appears to have occurred to the organization’s mastermind, the acting Spanish Foreign minister Josep Borrell. The fact that the spots produced by the agency turned out to be laughably amateurish and that Borrell proved, with his heedless comments about the European genocide of indigenous Americans and in his petulant behavior in an interview with Deutsche Welle’s Tim Sebastian, to be much more of a pyromaniac than a firefighter, simply added further touches of grotesquerie to the desperate efforts of the Spanish establishment on the Catalan question.

But again, thanks to the highly evolved symbiotic relationship between Spanish government officials and the Madrid-based press that follows them, very little of this reality was evident to most Spaniards outside of Catalonia.

Indeed, the general tenor of the Spanish establishment’s view on the Catalan question during last months of 2018 would be best described as one of considerable optimism. As they saw it, the most charismatic figure of the movement, Puigdemont, representing the more conservative Together for Catalonia faction was on the defensive and increasingly forgotten in exile, while Junqueras, the leader of the movement’s increasingly more popular faction, the left-leaning Catalan left Republicans, was safely tucked away in prison awaiting trial. Moreover, the second and third-line leadership cadres who had been forced into positions of prime responsibility in the Catalan coalition government were engaging in bitter and quite public accusations disloyalty against one another.

And best of all from their point of view the trial of the imprisoned Catalan government ministers and civil society leaders was scheduled to start at the beginning of 2019 on home turf in Madrid, far away from those pesky and clueless Belgian and German judges with their strange concern for the appropriate matches between criminal accusations and the facts at their disposal

The Exemplary Punishment Begins

The trial, which ran from February to May of 2019 did not disappoint. In it, Spanish and Catalan TV audiences saw a prosecution that played fast and loose with the facts, and that was legitimated in its dishonestly at every turn by the presiding judge Manuel Marchena. His many demonstrations of partiality—which were clearly and unambiguously noted by international observers and will no doubt redound quite negatively upon him and the judicial pyramid he sits atop when, as is inevitable, the case as is brought to the European Court of Justice in the future—were often breathtaking in scope.

One of the key goals of the prosecution was to prove, in keeping with existing requirements for the crime of rebellion in Spain, that the wholly peaceful demonstrations that took place in Catalonia on October 1st and the days immediately preceding it, constituted a “tumultuous uprising” against the state. In order to prove this fact, the judge allowed Spanish official after Spanish official (including many the very people who planned and executed the widespread assault on unarmed voters) to speak at length about the personal sense of fear and dread they had experienced during this period.

When, however, the well-known Catalan philosopher Marina Garcés took the stand and began to speak of the sense of fear she felt in the face of the long-planned police assaults in her neighborhood on October 1st he abruptly cut her off saying, “none your personal appraisals or evaluations are of interest to the court. Therefore you should eliminate them, even though you’d like to expand upon them and all the fine points related to them. All those fetishizations that are not about the facts, but rather about your personal assessment of them, are of no interest to this tribunal and we are not going to waste our time with them”.

And this is just one of many such breaches of blatant unfairness that could be adduced in regard to the trial!

It is also worth mentioning that owing to the very antiquated legal mechanism known as the “People’s Accusation” the neo-Fascist Vox party was granted a full prosecutorial role in the proceedings beside the state’s attorneys! And though they made no secret of their complete and gruff disdain for the defendants and their cause in their interventions, they were seldom, if ever, reprimanded by the presiding judge.

The Spanish political establishment and its attendant press, led in many cases by the “liberal” El País, cheered Marchena for his wonderful probity under difficult circumstances, while simultaneously expressing its belief that the with the end of the trial the Catalan “challenge” as they like to refer to it, would soon be a distant memory.

European Justice: The Uninvited Guest at Marchena’s Show

Meanwhile, however, President Puigdemont’s legal team, led by the cocky and irrepressible Chilean, Gonzalo Boye, known around the world for an extraordinary ability to find and exploit the cracks in elite-dominated legal systems on behalf of those deprived of fundamental rights and protections, remained hard at work.

Elections to the European Parliament were scheduled for May of 2019. Knowing that anyone elected to that body acquires complete legal immunity from the moment their victory at the polls is certified, Boye suggested that Puigdemont put forward his candidacy. He did so, and was joined by two other members of his exiled cabinet, Toni Comín, living not far from him in Belgium and Clara Ponsatí, living in Scotland where she is a professor at St. Andrews University. Seeing the advantages that this approach might also hold for him, Catalan Vice-President Oriol Junqueras soon followed suit from his jail cell in Spain.

Aware that that having Puigdemont and Junqueras and the two other ministers gain platforms in the European Parliament would constitute a serious threat to their ability to continue to control the narrative (Catalonia bad, Spain a “consolidated democracy”), the Spanish judiciary sprang into action. And they did so in their typically “creative” manner, banking that a legally baseless show of force, elevated to the status of a self-evident constitutional doctrine by the Madrid-based press, would scare Boye and his clients into submission.

How?

Mere days before the April filing deadline for candidates European election candidates, the Central Electoral Board of Spain, an administrative body staffed, in part, with magistrates from the Supreme Court, but lacking judicial or policy making powers of its own, “ruled” that the exiled candidates were ineligible for to run. This, despite the non-existence of any such law regarding people the exclusion of indicted and/or exiled people in such matters. Boye, however, swiftly filed a legal challenge to the decision which was upheld by the real courts. So, on Monday May 6th 2019, the exiles successfully filed their candidacy papers.

In the late May 2019 European elections, the exiled Puigdemont and Comín along with the imprisoned Junqueras won seats in the EU Parliament. Ponsatí fell just short. When, however, Brexit is consummated and British deputies are removed the European calculus she too will have a seat in Brussels. In short three (with a fourth soon on board) of Spain’s most important official enemies, people wanted for the deadly crime of putting out ballot boxes, now had full parliamentary immunity.

But as we have seen, assimilating and adjusting to changing realities is not exactly a strong suit of the organs of the Spanish judiciary. So, rather than accept the clear verdict of the voters along with the rules of the EU, they invented yet another legal doctrine, one which held that no winning candidate to the European parliament could take his or her seat without first swearing loyalty to the Spanish constitution in Madrid, something which would, of course, nullify the indicted exiled candidates from taking their seats and gaining immunity.

They did so despite the act that a) that the membership European
Parliament was designed precisely to be transcendent of such national impediments b) Elected Spanish members of the body have regularly complied with this national “requirement” by proxy, something that the exiles immediately sought to do. However, when Puigdemont sent Boye to do this on his behalf, government officials at both the Spanish Parliament and the Central Electoral Commission in Madrid refused register the documents he brought with him.

When it came time to sell this legal legerdemain to its partner states in the EU, Spain enlisted the services of European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who first gained prominence in public life as the spokesman for Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. In his role as head of the chamber, Tajani—without consulting his fellow members of the Parliament’s executive—commissioned the legal office of the European Parliament to generate a report which upheld the novel Spanish position.

When Puigdemont and Comin protested the findings of the report in writing, Tajani responded as if its contents were binding when, in all probability, knew quite well it was not the case. And when, on May 29th, 2019, Puigdemont and Comin—surrounded by busloads of Catalans who had made long the trip north to support their exiled politicians—tried pick up their accreditation as elected deputies at the Parliament in Brussels, Tajani, ordered security to prevent them from entering the building.

Meanwhile, the exemplary lesson in justice for those Catalan politicians who had stayed in Spain was coming to a close. A number of the politician being tried, including Junqueras, had stood as candidates for the Spain’s general elections—the third in three years—which had taken place at the end of April, roughly a month before the European polls referenced above, Oddly, and in apparent contradiction to what would occur a month later in relation to the winning candidacies for the European Parliament, all of the prisoners who won seats were allowed to leave jail and take their oaths of office in the Parliament in Madrid, after which time they were promptly returned to prison and ordered to find substitutes to occupy their places in that body.

The contradiction was not lost on Junqueras or his lawyers. If they could allow him to take his oath in Madrid, why could he not also take his oath in Brussels? It was even bigger than this. If, as Puigdemont, Comín and their counsel Boye had long alleged, legal immunity for members of the European Parliament goes into effect the moment their home country certifies their victory at the polls, then Junqueras should have also have been immediately freed from detention to take his seat Brussels, with full immunity from any ongoing or future prosecution.

When Junqueras challenged the Spanish courts on this matter they, unsurprisingly, did not find in his favor. When, however, he asked that they consult the European Court of Justice on the matter, the judge, for some reason probably linked to the overconfidence that can accrue to those who work in controlled environments for many years, agreed to do so. One has to believe that he will regret that moment of fair-minded legal rigor for a long time to come.

Within days of the decision in favor of Junqueras on December 19th, Puigdemont and Comín received their credentials as fully immunized European parliamentarians. Clara Ponsatí awaits the completion of Brexit to claim her place in the chamber. For the next four years, at least, they will be free to speak directly to the European press and citizenry without filters. And should Spain engage in more of the organized intimidation tactics they have used over the last few years to silence Catalan voices— like threatening retribution against third party organizations that host a pro-independence speakers outside of Spain and/or sending embassy officials to insult and shout down such speakers when the people organizing the event did not cede to the pressure to cancel—they will have an official perch form which to denounce it before their fellow EU citizens.

For many establishment figures in Spain the late December decision marked the first time that they had to face the possibility that the Spanish state might not be on the side of the angels in the Catalan matter, and that being part of Europe might involve a bit more than spending German monies on better highways and airports, in other words, that it might actually involve respecting the legal norms it is strictly obligated to follow as part of their membership in the EU.

And when we speak of that establishment—and this is very important for progressives outside of Spain to hear—we are talking about a category that very much includes the Socialist party of Pedro Sánchez who, during the campaign for the fourth general election in four years, which took place this past November 10th, bragged like a sheriff in a fifties western about how he would bring the dastardly Puigdemont to trial and prison in Spain were he to be elected Prime Minister.

Still, the fog of denial and induced ignorance remains thick for many in Spain. For example, shortly after Toni Comín received his provisional accreditation as European parliamentarian on December 20th, a reporter from the Sexta , a network that passes for more sophisticated and liberal than most in the country, said to him:

It is still not totally clear as to whether you will receive your final accreditation, and there are those that are saying that in order to receive that final accreditation you still must still go to Madrid and take care of the unfinished formalities awaiting you in order actually become European parliamentarians.

To which an astonished Comín responded with all the good-natured containment he could muster:

Is there really anyone who after having read the decision is actually saying this? That the first I’ve heard of it. Is there really someone who having read the sentence, is saying that we need to go to Madrid and swear our loyalty to the constitution? If that the case, they should use the upcoming Christmas vacation to take an intensive reading course. In this sense the decision is extremely clear. It de facto annuls the section of Spanish law that says that elected European parliamentarians must, in order to accede to their office, go to Madrid pledge loyalty to the constitution.

But, of course, not all such cases of denial are so comical or so inconsequential. In announcing its decision on the Junqueras’ appeal, the European Court of Justice returned the specific matter of whether Junqueras should be released from jail at this time in order to take his seat in Brussels to the Spanish courts. Since he was convicted in October after being improperly deprived of his seat—and with it his four year run of parliamentary immunity—in May, there are very solid grounds for releasing him from jail immediately and vacating his sentence.

That, however, would deeply tarnish the value of Judge Marchena’s exemplary trial and sentence.

So, what did the Spanish judiciary do? In a vain attempt to help Marchena save face, they kicked the matter over to that trustiest and most malleable of judicial playthings, the Central Electoral Commission, who, as if on cue, reaffirmed that Junqueras cannot be allowed to leave prison and take his place in Brussels.

Knowing, however, that the Commission has no judicial standing in the matter, and that European Court of Justice has specifically requested a response from the Supreme Court which had tried Junqueras, the leadership of the European Parliament declined to respond to the letter on the matter sent to it by the Commission. But in a symbolic move surely aimed at Madrid it updated its website to include Junqueras as a full member of the body. And in a symbolic act of solidarity taken the same day, the Green Party’s parliamentary caucus in the chamber named him its Vice-President.

Having thus struck out in its attempt to have the Central Electoral Commission do its dirty work vis a vis Europe, the Supreme Court was forced to show its cards.

On January 9th, 2020 it told the highest court in Europe, a court whose decisions it is required by both Spanish and European law to accept, that it was not going to release Junqueras from prison to take his seat in the European Parliament.

And to the surprise of many, the President of that body, David Sassoli, who only weeks before had said in the clearest and sternest possible terms that Spain was obliged to accept the European court’s ruling, now accepted Spain’s defiance and ordered Junqueras’s name to be struck from the official list of European parliamentarians.

In its rejection of the Junqueras decision, the Spanish Supreme Court indicated, as is apparently its right under European law, that it would ask to the full body of the European Parliament to overturn the ruling of the Union’s highest court. In doing so, it is clearly banking on the fact that the many parliamentarians from large countries with real or potential regional problems of their own—the same majority who stood by silently while Antonio Tajani blatantly and illegally disenfranchised all those who had voted for the Catalan parliamentarians in the Spring of 2019—will vote in their favor.

And there is good reason to believe that this gamble will pay off in the short term.

In the longer term, however, the fallout could be enormous.

During the last half of last year Tajani and his parliamentary collaborators, acting with the tacit backing of the larger states, were able to shut down all discussion of the larger practical and philosophical implications of the case of the Catalan parliamentarians for the future of the European project.

Doing so now, however, will be much more difficult. Puigdemont, Comin and their small, but passionate group of sympathizers in the body have pledged that in the debate over the Spanish request for an annulment of the high court ruling, they will be anything but silent about both Spanish and large-state strong-arm tactics against their movement, and the enormous implications of such an annulment for the future of truly united Europe.

In short, even if Spain and the large states “win” this time around, they may lose in the long run because they will have completely and quite graphically robbed the EU’s smaller constituencies and its millions of already skeptical citizens of the illusion that the Union’s institutions are at all willing, or able to safeguard their full slate of political and human rights.

Posted in SpainComments Off on The Catalan Crisis Threatens to Reopen a Debate That the EU’s Power Brokers Thought They Had Long Ago Quashed

What is Happening in Spain?

by VICENTE NAVARRO

The transition from dictatorship to democracy in Spain (1978) was carried out under conditions very favorable to the profoundly conservative forces that controlled the Spanish state and the majority of the media. The democratic forces (lead by the clandestine left wing parties) were institutionally weak. It is true that popular resistance against the dictatorship had been strong primarily among the working class, the base of these parties. Spain had the largest number of political strikes in Europe during the transition period (1975-1979), which played an important role in forcing the end of the extremely repressive regime (for every political assassination undertaken by the Mussolini dictatorship, Franco’s regime killed 10,000 people). Institutionally, however, the left wing forces were at a disadvantage. Their leaders were in jail, or exiled abroad, and there was an enormous imbalance of forces at the negotiating table. On one side, the inheritors of the fascist state controlled the state apparatus and had the support of the Army, of the Church, and of the major economic and financial interests in the country. On the other side were the democratic forces that had come out of hiding only a few months before the transition started. The popular mobilization was critical in forcing the end of the dictatorship, but the political branch of those mobilizations was not strong enough to break with the previous dictatorial regime. As an example, the King, appointed by the dictator Franco as the head of state, continued to be the head of the new democratic regime and the head of the armed forces, holding enormous power in guiding the process of transition.

The three major problems left unresolved by the transition: the democratic deficit

This unequal context was responsible for the three major deficits in the political regime that was established during the transition, which have exploded in the last years. One was the democratic deficit, based on an electoral law that deliberately discriminated against the progressive and urban areas, i.e. where the working class lived. This law was designed by the fascist party assembly (La Asamblea Nacional) as a condition for their dissolution: its main objective was to stop the left from achieving electoral success. As a consequence, large sectors of the Spanish population with left wing positions have been underrepresented in the parliament during the majority of the democratic period (1978-present). The most recent example of this was the last general election for the Spanish parliament of the 28th April. While the number of votes for the left was much larger than the votes for the right (by a majority of 1.2 million), the number of parliamentary seats of the left and right were not very different. Had the electoral system been proportional, the number of left-wing parliamentarians would have been much larger. This is with the exception of the Socialist Party (the PSOE), the largest left wing party in Spain, who already benefits – as the major conservative party, the Partido Popular (PP) does – from another characteristic of the electoral law: that it favors a bipartisan system. The leading parties receive a plus of seats, which enables two majority parties (the conservative-liberal PP and the left PSOE) to be the only two governing parties that Spain has had until now. In fact, the PSOE obtained the same percentage of the vote this year as back in 2011, when it was considered to be a very negative result (with the PP winning a majority government), while this year it was considered to be a great success, which was primarily due to the decline of the PP and the division of the right wing vote into three parties (the PP, Ciudadanos, and Vox). Another important event was the increase of participation in the elections of the 28th April, coming from the previously abstaining left. The point that needs to be stressed is that in Spain, the changes in the parliament do not necessarily reflect the changes in the political leanings of the population. This has been missed by the majority of the international press.

The consequences of a limited democracy: a very unequal society

This democratic deficit explains another major deficit: the social deficit. The enormous influence that the financial interests (i.e. banking) have in the Spanish economy and representative institutions explains the intensity of the neoliberal policies that have been applied during the great recession period (2007-2018). Under the influence of what is known in Spain as the Troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund), the policies of austerity have a devastating effect on the poorly funded Spanish welfare state. Spain spends much less on public social expenditures that what it should spend according to its level of economic development. It is one of the countries of the European Union 15 (the more advanced economies of the European Union) that spends the least on public services such as health care, education, public housing and child care, and on transfers, such as pensions. The tax laws, while nominally progressive, are highly regressive. And public revenues are low. As a consequence, Spain is one of the countries with highest inequalities in the EU15. This polarization increased during the mandate of the Rajoy government (the president of the PP during 2011-2018) as a consequence of labor market reforms aimed at weakening labor (involving an enormous growth of precariousness and decline in wages); reforms that had already been initiated by the previous PSOE government under the presidency of Zapatero (2004-2011). Spain is, after Greece, the country in the EU15 with highest unemployment and work precariousness.

The appearance of new political forces as a consequence of the crisis

This instigated an enormous protest, known as the ‘indignados’ movement or 15M, that denounced the political establishment, referred to as the political class (la clase politica). It accused the politicians of not representing the interests of the population. It was a social-political movement that had an enormous impact, as it became very popular. Its slogan “no nos representan” (“they do not represent us”) became a popular cry. The party Podemos was established, rooted in this 15M movement. In three years it became the third largest political force in the country. Many things happened during these years, including the resignation of King Juan Carlos and the rebellion of the PSOE’s party base against the party’s apparatus (too close to financial institutions). A similar pressure also appeared among the militants of the Communist Party and allied forces (IU – Izquierda Unida) to change its leadership, who then allied IU with Podemos, establishing Unidos Podemos (UP).

The demand for democracy and social protest gave rise to many popular protest movements, including the current feminist movement, led by socialist women, which originated the 8th March demonstrations, demanding the abolition of patriarchal capitalism; the pensioners’ march, which protested the reforms imposed by the PP that cut pensions significantly; and the neighborhood movements protesting housing evictions. Such protests culminated with the expulsion of the PP from government, caused by a majority vote which forced their resignation. The movement to throw the PP out of government was initiated by UP and followed by the Catalan and Basque nationalists, as well as the PSOE.

The third unresolved question: the national question

The third deficit was the reproduction of the vision of Spain as a uni-national state, typical of the monarchist forces, against the pluri-national vision of Spain, historically characteristic of the republican left wing parties. During the anti-fascist underground struggle, all of the clandestine left wing republican parties called for a federal pluri-national state, with the right to self-determination for all of the different nations. The PSOE abandoned that vision, however, during the transition, becoming a major pillar of the monarchy. Although repressed, that vision continued to exist in Catalonia and the Basque country. And it was a left wing coalition in Catalonia, led by the very popular President of the Catalonian government, the socialist Pasqual Maragall, who made a proposal (among other reforms) to call for the recognition of Catalonia as a nation inside Spain. This proposal, after being approved by the Catalan government and the Spanish parliament (with substantial changes), and approved in a referendum by the Catalan people, was rejected in some key elements by the Constitutional Court controlled by the PP. This was the origin of the strength of the pro-independence movement in Catalonia: the pro-independence parties who used to receive only 10% of the Catalonian vote now receive 46%. Actually, the rigidity and repressive measures of the PP government were the primary reason for the growth of electoral support for the pro-independence parties in Catalonia. These pro-independence parties benefit electorally from the very unpopular (in Catalonia) provocative behavior of the central Spanish right wing nationalism, which supports a unified Spanish nation-state, who imprison or force to exile the leaders of those parties. On the other hand, the right-wing Spanish parties also benefit electorally, from the radicalization of the pro-independence parties (which unilaterally declared Catalonian independence in parliament, without having the support and approval of the majority of the Catalan population). This undemocratic behavior mobilized support from large sectors of the Spanish population in favor of the Spanish right-wing parties, known as the most anti-independence parties.

How the national question has been hiding the social question

Two nationalisms (the inheritors of the dictatorship on one side and the pro-independent groups on the other) have polarized the country into two blocks, and both benefit from this polarization. Both blocks have been led by right wing neoliberal parties: the PP and a new neoliberal party called Ciudadanos on the Spanish side, and Convergencia on the Catalan side, have implemented very neoliberal policies (claiming they did not have any other alternative) that have caused enormous pain among the population in general, and the working class in particular. In public, they all fight over the flags (the monarchic Spanish flag and the Catalan independence flag) with a very “patriotic” discourse, while in private signing (in the Spanish parliament) the same labor market reforms and cuts in social expenditures. The right wing orientation of most of the media explains why the whole electoral debate has been over the national question and has hidden the social question, i.e. the enormous social crisis caused by the parties who lead the nationalist forces on both sides.

In this scenario, Unidos Podemos and its allies, such as En Comú Podem in Catalonia and En Marea in Galicia, have defended the pluri-national nature of the Spanish state within a highly polarized situation, where the extremes on either side benefit from those tensions. From the Spanish right wing side, the PP, funded by ministers of the fascist regime; Ciudadanos, a party created by the financial institutions and the major employers’ association to stop Unidos Podemos (It is part of the Liberal International, of which the Democratic Party of the United States is an observer); and Vox, which is a new fascist party, grown from scission of the PP, are strong opponents of the pluri-national state and major proponents of neoliberalism. Vox is the most ultra-neoliberal party, asking for full privatization of pensions, such as Pinochet did in Chile. It is the party closest to the Trump and Bolsonaro lines. And on the Catalan side, there is the pro-independence block asking for secession from Spain, lead by another neoliberal party, Convergencia, with the support of ERC, also promoting neoliberal policies.

The leading parties of both blocks are clearly using the flags to hide their responsibility for the enormous crisis that the popular classes are suffering. Unidos Podemos and their allies are the only forces who are anti-neoliberal and call at the same time for a pluri-national, federal Spanish state. They try to put the social question at the center of the political debate, and at the same time they also denounce the use of flags to hide the responsibility of the right wing on both sides in establishing this crisis. The policies of national identity are clearly used to hide the social question. Unidos Podemos redefines the meaning of patriotism, emphasizing that importance should be placed on the wellbeing of the population instead of the symbols that represent them.

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Spain rejects US request to participate in Gulf police force

Spanish Flag [Flickr: fdecomite

Madrid has rejected an official request from Washington to participate in the joint forces it plans to form to secure the navigation traffic of the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf region, Spanish newspaper El Confidencial said on Thursday.

The newspaper quoted diplomatic sources confirming that Madrid had received an official request from the United States to participate in these forces.

However, the same sources said that “the Spanish government has currently no intention to participate in joint US-led forces.”

The sources explained that Spain rejected the US request, as did Germany, and France is still studying this request.

Read: US formally asked Germany to join Hormuz mission

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, during a press conference, that Germany, “would not participate in the mission the United States plans to form.”

On Tuesday, the United States officially asked Germany to take part in securing the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf Region.

Spain had withdrawn its frigate Méndez Núñez, from joint force led by US aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, on its way to the Gulf on 14 May.

Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said at the time that the decision “was not political, but was purely technical.”

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Spanish Politics Is US Geopolitics

NOVANEWS

The sun is hot in Spain this time of year. The Catholics too. Semana Santa (Holy Week) reminded us that Spain was once the world’s preeminent source of religious fundamentalism. Today, in contrast, it simply copies the nihilistic fundamentalism which flows out of Wall Street. It now is the source of nothing and believes in nothing. For better or worse, Spain has been emasculated, neutralized and mediocritized. The proof are its politicians. And for the powers that be, that’s just fine.

On April 28 Spain is holding a general election. It will be the fourth since Spain’s version of US capitalism began to implode at the end of 2008. Finance capital, and that hot sun, had created a property bubble the size of California. All of which turned into political crap, in 2012, when Spain had to submit to the same “economic medicine”which was crushing Greece at that precise moment – the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund).

Ever since 2012 Spain has been drifting nowhere. The reason being that post-Franco democracy is moribund. Or maybe it was never alive to begin with.

Franco (right) had ruthlessly wiped out Spain’s democrats a long time before his death in 1975. And after destroying them, he had imposed an unwanted king, and an unwanted alliance with the US military, upon the backs of the Spanish. And that was that.

Ever since the first post-Franco election, in 1977, these legacies of Spanish fascism have been hiding behind manufactured political parties: first the Union of the Democratic Centre (UCD) and then the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP).

This political cage, however, has been battered and discredited by the economic crisis that engulfed Spain after 2008. The solution to the financial crash, for the post-Franco establishment, has been obedience to the financial markets – the Troika. And disobedience to the people of Spain. The word – austerity – sums up this treasonous solution.

In response, the Spanish people came out onto the streets. In 2011 the 15-M (May 15) Movement mobilized millions of ordinary Spaniards. Indignant about the naked appearance of financial fascism, the voiceless people took over the plazas of Spain. It was a ‘Spanish Spring’. The streets of Madrid had picked up the vibe of the Mediterranean, that then was emanating from Tunis and Cairo. However, the Spanish government were picking up the vibe of the CIA. And sent the cops into the plazas – to crack heads. The powers that be didn’t want freedom in the Mediterranean. Least of all in Spain.

And this geopolitical context is the key to understanding contemporary Spanish politics. Spain is a strategic gateway to many worlds: the Mediterranean, the European, the African and the Latin American. Because of its geographic location and history, Spain is a bridge. On the grand chessboard, Spain is more valuable than a pawn. And for this reason, Spain’s fate is not in Spain’s hands.

Franco knew this. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) he placed his fate not in the hands of the Spanish nation, but in the hands of Italian fascists, German Nazis and Moroccan mercenaries. And after World War Two, he instinctively turned to US imperialism. The once “great” Spain  became a US colony.

“In 1953 Franco signed the Pact of Madrid…. The pact consisted of three separate, but interdependent, agreements between Spain and the United States. It provided for mutual defense, for military aid to Spain, and for the construction of bases there.” (El País)

This innocuous looking agreement is the deep foundation of today’s Spanish politics. Next to it, everything else is superficial – even the king and the banks and Catalonia. Franco’s gift to Spain was nothing less than a pact with the devil. It was an agreement with permanent war. It was a fascist pact.

The pact manifested itself immediately. In the mid 1950s, the US built its own ‘rock of Gibraltar’ near the city of Cádiz: the naval port of Rota. And it moved into the airbase of Morón – near the city of Seville. From these extremely strategic positions the US could access Africa and the Mediterranean Sea within minutes. And it could reach the Middle East within a few hours.

Meanwhile, the secretive CIA teamed up with Franco’s secretive state. So much so, that the great CIA whistleblower, Philip Agee, wrote in his account of 1970s Europe – ‘On The Run’: “The more they tried to get me to Spain, the more suspicious I was. I knew the Agency and the Franco services were as thick as thieves.”

The death of Franco changed nothing. Spain’s transition to ‘democracy’ was managed carefully – so as not to disturb US imperialism. In an important 1976 article, La CIA, Aqui, Ahora (in a Spanish magazine called Cambio 16), Spain’s place in the Empire is brilliantly described:

“….neutralism in Spanish foreign policy… is the real danger for the USA…Washington’s new strategic planning passes right through Spain, since the Iberian Peninsula is an extension of the African-Atlantic shelf. The Sahara, Angola, the independence movements in the Azores and Canaries, the Paris-Madrid-Rabat axis all form part of the same story….And it is no longer a matter of facing up to the Soviets, but [of blocking] the process of normalization in international relations…

…With the handover of [Western Sahara] to Morocco, the [CIA] gained the isolation of Algeria, the division of the Third World, and the security of the monitoring units on Ceuta and Melilla and the base on Tenerife….

Already the Americans have secured the oil route that passes through Las Palmas and along the coast of Angola and the monitoring of the Soviet Mediterranean fleet from the south, thus reinforcing NATO’s most vulnerable zone. And all of this would be put at risk if Spain were to become truly neutral.

…the United States would not be prepared to tolerate a Mediterranean Switzerland.”

And is the 2019 relationship between Spain and the USA any different? No. Indeed recent events suggest it has become much darker.

A 2015 El País headline stated: “Spain to negotiate turning Morón into US base for anti-jihadist operations“. While another El País headline that same year read: “US and Spain to sign deal making Morón main base for Africa operations”.

And in April 2017 US navy ships – based in Rota, Spain – attacked Syria without informing the Spanish government beforehand. In fact, Spain’s second class status, even within Spain, was underlined in February this year (2019) when the CIA brazenly broke into the Madrid embassy of North Korea and terrorized its occupants.

Will the Spanish government pushback? No. It continues to play the role the US has assigned for it. For example, when the US openly pressed for regime change in Venezuela last January, Spain’s socialist Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, immediately supported the Americans. This being significant because Spain automatically leads official European opinion when it comes to Latin America.

So what’s the point of the April 28 Spanish general election? Its ideological. Its a lie or a joke the Spanish state tells itself so as to cover up its own impotence. The Spanish people, however, are beginning to feel it.

The new left leaning political party, Podemos (We Can), emerged out of the 2011 ‘Spanish Spring’ and has upset the established order. But it is fighting a rigged voting system that favors the conservative countryside – at the expense of the more critical ‘Podemos cities’. And it is being shadowed now by two new ‘made to measure’ (CIA?) right wing parties: Ciudadanos (Citizens) and Vox (Voice).

As the US gears up today for a few more wars (Iran and Venezuela) there seems to be no escape, for Spain, from its deep colonial status. Even Podemos don’t seem to be aware of the depth of the problem. The Spanish Spring complained about the EU straitjacket (austerity) but failed to see the US straitjacket (imperialism).

The Americans, therefore, seem to have Spanish sovereignty truly trapped. The basic fact is that Spain joined the USA (1953) before it joined the EU (1986). So for Spain to be free, it is necessary to go back to the source of the slavery: the 1953 Pact of Madrid. If Spain destroys this then the liberation will follow: the liberation from the US, the EU and the King. The Republic of Spain would be reborn. But is any Spanish politician offering this truly post-Franco vision?



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On the Events in Catalonia

NOVANEWS

Communist Party of Spain (Marxist-Leninist)

The Rajoy Government has more than fulfilled its threats, setting in motion all its repressive machinery as soon as the Generalitat de Catalunya formalized its call for a referendum for October 1st. As has been announced, there has not been a formal suspension of Catalan autonomy nor the military intervention contemplated by the Monarchical Constitution. But there is no doubt that the Government has stretched, at its convenience, what the Popular Party (PP) understands by “legality”, imposing a de facto state of emergency and converting the rights formally recognized on paper: This is the Francoist “force of the rule of law,” which is often cited when a political conflict arises.

Threatened officials, closed websites, seized publications, assaults, acts and rallies suspended by the police, political material confiscated, more than seven hundred mayors persecuted, hundreds of police transferred to Catalonia to search for “evidence” and suppress citizens, a Constitutional Court acting as a simple arm of the Executive, the Prosecutor’s Office threatening detentions that are not within its jurisdiction.

That is the panorama that today envelops Catalonia and all Spain: The threat of a revived fascism that (although it was never truly gone) in the de facto reestablishment of the crime of “illegal propaganda” and which has had its most vivid advocate in an exultant Catalan PP, that dances and whistles of ecstasy of the announcement of the seizure of one hundred thousand political posters. Our comrades, the ones who suffered prison and torture for what were also crimes under fascist “legality,” know full well what this means.

This does not stop the Government, just the opposite, it clings cynically to the defense of its “legality”: The same “legality” that the Popular Party violates with impunity or interprets at whim as many times as necessary. This is demonstrated by its more than 1,300 proposals; but, above all by the express reform of article 135 of the Constitution, enforcing payment of the national debt; the insertion of Spain into the military structure of NATO (against the outcome of the 1986 referendum); the secret agreements with the US and, now, with Saudi Arabia. Not to mention the social rights included in the monarchical Constitution in order to have it pass as democratic, which are systematically ignored.

On the other hand, the Catalan nationalist bourgeoisie, appeals to the solidarity of the peoples of Spain, but knows that without a radical change, a rupture, with the regime of ‘78 which it helped to settle, it is impossible to exercise the right of self-determination. However, throughout those years (the last time being in 2012, when CIU deputies supported the Rajoy’s brutal reforms, including the labour reform) it has given support to a regime that in times of crisis has always shown its true reactionary face. Is it any wonder that most workers consider that this is a political bet wagered between two bourgeoisies outside of the interests and most deeply felt needs of the people?

There is no turning back: After the gag laws, Rajoy’s supporters have found in Catalonia the pretext to give another twist to the process of degradation of democratic rights and the fascistization of the State. If the Government is unable to seek a political solution it is because it does not want to – in order to further oppress the popular classes for it is the executive arm of the interests of the oligarchy — nor is the allowed with the framework of ‘78. On October 1, will lay bare the true nature of the bourgeois state, which in situations of profound crisis gets rid of its democratic garb to appear as the naked instrument of the domination of one class over the rest. It also demonstrates, as we communists have repeatedly said, that the monarchist regime of ‘78 is irreformable, a barrier to democratic and social rights and a prison for the peoples.

For this reason, the referendum on self-determination in Catalonia (more than possible independence) can be a point of rupture that puts in check the monarchical State. It may be so, despite the fact that the rush of some leading separatists — who considered themselves “disconnected” from Spain even before the referendum – give the whole process certain comic opera tone; irrespective of the outcome of the vote, if there is a positive result; and it may be so because it has managed to revitalize the broad and dynamic popular movement that gave it its drive in the first place.

Starting from this base, one has to emphasize the lamentable performance of the Spanish “Left,” as always playing the role of his majesty’s loyal opposition. That in a question of principle, as is the right of the self-determination of the peoples, the “leaders” of the “mainstream left” choose to back down, shielding themselves in formalities, is already serious problem; but that they demand a “conditional referendum” under the monarchic regime is unworthy and demeaning. The problem is not technical, but ideological and political: They simply have no alternative program to the ‘78 regime. As was demonstrated in 2014, at a time of popular struggle, when they evaded coming down clearly in favour of the Republic in the midst of the announced abdication of Bourbon king. Now that same lack of response is again evident, when the State clings to a law that is a dead letter to justify its repressive escalation.

That an immense majority of Catalans wishes to exercise their legitimate right to self-determination, whether “legal” or not, is undoubtedly the case, as is they will at least try to put it into practice on October 1. It is not the task of revolutionaries, of course, to examine the technical aspects of the matter, just as the fight for democratic rights and against fascism is not exclusively the job of the Catalan people.

What we now have to do, therefore, is to apply all our energy to deepen the political weakness of the monarchical State, to advance a rupture with the rot inherited from the Franco regime. This is a task that engages all Spain, and that is concretized in supporting without distinction the right of the Catalans to decide their future; to combat coercion and the infringement of rights; to denounce the manifest incapacity of the State to face the crucial problems of our peoples and our class; and to promote a broad anti-fascist and republican front, which will boost the rupture with the regime based on a general response to the repressive wave of the PP, regardless of the result of the referendum.

These are the tasks we call on all people and organizations that consider themselves to be left-wing to jointly develop.

Communist Party of Spain (Marxist-Leninist), Executive Committee

Madrid, September 19, 2017

Posted in SpainComments Off on On the Events in Catalonia

Catalonia’s Puigdemont to Spain: ‘Now is the Time to Talk’

NOVANEWS
  •  People react to results in Catalonia
    People react to results in Catalonia’s regional elections at a gathering of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) in Barcelona, Spain Dec. 21, 2017. | Photo: Reuters
Pro-independence parties have won 70 seats to reach an absolute majority, gaining a significant amount of votes compared to the 2015 regional elections.

Catalonia’s ousted separatist leader, Carles Puigdemont, has called for fresh talks with Spain following the success of pro-independence parties in Thursday’s regional elections.

“Catalonia wants to be an independent state; this is the wish of the Catalan people,” he said, speaking in Belgium. “I think the plan of [Spanish Prime Minister] Mariano Rajoy is not working, so we have to find new ways to tackle this crisis. Now is the time for dialogue.”

Puigdemont says he wants the dialogue to be held in Brussels, where he is living in self-imposed exile, or another EU country.

Rajoy appeared to agree, saying he expects a “new era based on dialogue” is about to begin in Catalonia, Associated Press reports.

The Spanish prime minister told a news conference on Friday that the election’s outcome, which also gave the pro-Spain Ciutadans (Citizens) party the most votes, showed a diversity of views in Catalonia that compel the new government to abide by the law.

Rajoy says he is prepared to talk with the region’s new leaders provided they don’t violate Spain’s Constitution.

RELATED: Will There Be Prospects for Independence After the Catalan Elections?

With almost all votes counted, Citizens party was in the lead with 36 parliamentarians, three more than Junts per Catalunya, and four more than ERC. All pro-independence parties together reach a total of 70 seats, which gives them an absolute majority. Rajoy’s conservative Popular Party (PP) recorded its worst ever result.

The popular vote tells a different story, with 52 percent voting for anti-independence parties vs 47.6 percent for parties vying for independence.

Meanwhile, despite the backlash against their secession attempt and their leaders being charged with rebellion by the Spanish government, pro-independence parties gained more than 91,000 extra votes compared to the 2015 elections in Catalonia.

Turnout on Thursday reached a record high, with over 83 percent of eligible Catalans voting: significantly higher than the 63 percent turnout in 2015.

Polls suggest the region is set for a hung parliament, with the pro-independence Junts per Catalunya in second place alongside the ERC vying for third place with the unionist Citizens party coming in first.

Long queues formed outside voting stations in the prosperous region of northeastern Spain shortly after they opened.

Among those queuing in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, a working class suburb south of Barcelona, was Miguel Rodriguez, a 53-year-old doctor, who voted for independence in the referendum that Madrid declared unconstitutional.

“I’m not very optimistic that these elections will return a stable government,” he said, upset that Spanish government had fired the previous regional assembly. “We’ve had all our rights taken away.”

Rajoy called the Dec. 21 vote in October in the hopes of returning Catalonia to “normality” under a unionist government. He sacked the region’s previous government for holding a banned referendum and declaring independence, a move which failed to garner much international recognition.

The final results from Catalonia’s independence referendum showed that 90 per cent of voters backed secession from Spain, the region’s government said. Madrid vowed to ignore the result after Spain’s constitutional court declared the poll unlawful.

OPINION: Why Catalonia Matters for Latin America

The independence campaign pitched Spain into its worst political turmoil since the collapse of fascist rule and return of democracy in the 1970s.

“I want a change, because things are going from bad to worse here and it’s the young people that carry the brunt of it,” said Manuela Gomez, 71. Gomez voted for unionist favorites Ciudadanos, emerged as the most voted-for party in the election.

Podemos backs the unity of Spain but says Catalans should be able to have a referendum authorized by Madrid to decide their future. At the same time, Podemos favors a left-wing alliance of Catalan parties that both back and reject independence.

In this, analysts say, Podemos is caught between two options it does not particularly like, but would prefer to back the separatists rather than a coalition involving Rajoy’s right-wing party.



Posted in SpainComments Off on Catalonia’s Puigdemont to Spain: ‘Now is the Time to Talk’

Spanish court issues European Arrest Warrant for deposed Catalan President Puigdemont

NOVANEWS

Carles Puigdemont now joins Julian Assange as a political victim of the European Arrest Warrant.

A court in Madrid has issued a European Arrest Warrant for deposed Catalan President Carles Puigdemont. In total, 9 deposed officials from the Catalan leadership have been placed under arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and perhaps most peculiarly, embezzlement. All but Puigdemont have now been remanded into custody by Spanish police.

Puigdemont is the most prominent figure  wanted on charges which could carry a prison sentence of 30 years and he is the only one who is still living as a free man.The deposed Catalan President is currently in Belgium where he is likely to formally seek asylum.

Puigdemont now faces legal limbo, as the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) has been highly controversial since its introduction in 2004.

Julian Assange’s plight began when Sweden issued an EAW for Assange on charges related to uniquely Swedish offences that would not constituent any violation under English law. Julian Assange tried to fight extradition in English courts, but the power of the EAW prevailed which resulted Julian Assange seeking and receiving asylum in Ecuador. Assange is currently living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London as a result of the ordeal.

Assange who has been a vocal supporter of Catalan independence Tweeted the following about the lack of impartiality in Spain’s judiciary.

Spain’s judicial independence is worse than that of China, Kenya and Saudi Arabia according 2017 rankings from the World Economic Forum  http://reports.weforum.org/global-competitiveness-index-2017-2018/competitiveness-rankings/#series=EOSQ144 

Puigdemont’s case is now the second most prominent EAW matter with clear political overtones. While Assange was sought be Sweden on non-political charges whose origin is widely believed to be political in nature, with Puigdemont there is no technical ambiguity. Spain seeks Puigdemont’s extradition from Belgium because of his political activities.

This is where matters get more complicated. The EAW is generally a straightforward process where one EU state can simply ask another to handover a person wanted for questioning relating to any proprietorial matter, however small.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. One of the exceptions which allows an EU state to refuse a request under the EAW is if the arrest of the suspect is sought in connection with something that a judge could reasonably define as persecution for one’s political beliefs.

It is now likely that Carles Puigdemont will argue this in a Belgian court.

Protesters have taken to the streets of Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital, in support of the arrested independence leaders.

Following the imprisonment of the Catalan ministers, protesters are again on the street & asking “Where is Europe.”

Puigdemont has yet to publicly respond to Spain’s issuing of an EAW.



Posted in SpainComments Off on Spanish court issues European Arrest Warrant for deposed Catalan President Puigdemont

Catalan Premier Appeals to EU as Opposition Mounts to Madrid’s Crackdown

Featured image: Carles Puigdemont

From Brussels, where he fled to escape prosecution by Spanish authorities, deposed Catalan regional premier Carles Puigdemontappealed yesterday for the European Union to intervene in the secession crisis. Last week, Madrid invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution to impose an unelected regime in Catalonia in response to the October 1 Catalan independence referendum. Now Puigdemont is asking the EU to broker a deal between the Popular Party government in Madrid and the ousted Catalan authorities.

Workers in Catalonia and across Spain face an attempt by the Spanish ruling elite to seize the Catalan regional state apparatus, purge the public service and crush all opposition to the EU’s agenda of austerity and militarism by mobilizing tens of thousands of Guardia Civil and soldiers. The danger of bloody police-military repression in Catalonia is looming.

Puigdemont’s appeal to Brussels expresses the political bankruptcy and reactionary role of Catalan bourgeois nationalism in this explosive and dangerous situation. There are mass protests against Article 155 in Catalonia, fears in the European ruling elite of a mobilization of the working class, and popular opposition to Article 155 across Spain. Puigdemont’s reaction to this growing popular opposition is to seek a deal with both Madrid and the EU, which has repeatedly made clear its support for Madrid’s policy of authoritarian rule in Catalonia.

Speaking from Brussels, Puigdemont lamented “the grave democratic deficit that exists in the Spanish state” and urged Brussels to intervene “to protect the values of the EU.” He said he wanted to base the Catalan regional government partly in Brussels for a time so as to escape “the violence and belligerence” of Madrid. Calling for a defense of Catalan “institutions and self government,” Puigdemont at the same time endorsed Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s call for snap elections in Catalonia on December 21.

Though these elections will be held at gunpoint, amid a massive military-police deployment following the vicious crackdown on peaceful voters during the October 1 referendum, Puigdemont nevertheless claims that Madrid’s December 21 election call constitutes a “democratic plebiscite.”

Polls by the Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió show that an election held today would return a pro-independence parliament in Barcelona virtually indistinguishable from the parliament that was the basis for Puigdemont’s government before he was removed by Madrid.

The Junts pel Sí (JxS—“Together for Yes”) coalition would receive 60 to 62 seats, and the petty-bourgeois Candidatures of Popular Unity (CUP) would receive eight to nine. This would give the JxS-CUP coalition a majority in the 135-seat Catalan parliament.

Puigdemont did everything he could to suggest that Rajoy’s December 21 election would be a truly democratic expression of the will of the Catalan population.

“I will accept the results, but will the Spanish government accept them if they are not favorable [to Madrid]?” Puigdemont asked, adding that Rajoy might somehow accept a unilateral declaration of independence by Catalonia if the December 21 vote gave the majority to secessionists.

Puigdemont’s appeals for a deal with the EU and the political establishment in Madrid aim to promote absurd illusions. The EU will not intervene in Spain to preserve “democratic values” any more than Madrid is seeking a “democratic” consultation of the Catalan population by calling the December 21 poll. The EU and government leaders in Germany, Britain and France have repeatedly insisted that Rajoy is the only person in Spain with whom they will negotiate.

Madrid invoked Article 155 to suspend the powers of the Catalan parliament. Whatever majority is returned by the December 21 election will be powerless from the standpoint of Spanish law to name a government, pass laws or take any substantive action. Puigdemont’s attempts to present the Catalan parliamentary election as “democratic” amounts to applying a “democratic” gloss to the dictatorial policies of Madrid.

The only way forward in the struggle against the turn toward dictatorship by the Spanish and European capitalist class is the independent revolutionary mobilization of the working class, on the basis of a socialist and internationalist perspective. The defense of the elementary democratic and social rights of the working class across Spain and Europe requires a struggle against the attempt by Madrid and the EU to impose a government by force on an entire region of Spain. The crackdown on Catalonia must be stopped, and Spanish troops and police withdrawn from the region.

Such a struggle can be mounted only in opposition to all factions of the Spanish political establishment, including its supposedly “left” factions such as the middle-class Podemos party, and to the Catalan nationalists. Despite the bitter conflict between the ruling elites in Madrid and Barcelona, they are reacting to growing popular opposition to the crackdown in Catalonia by closing ranks against the working class and shifting further to the right.

Mass protests of hundreds of thousands of people in Barcelona have pointed to the broad popular opposition to Madrid’s crackdown in Catalonia. Residents of Spanish-speaking working class districts of Catalonia, such as L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, have denounced Spanish police units as “occupation forces,” and there is growing fear in ruling class circles of an explosion of opposition in the working class.

Earlier this week, the French daily Le Bien Public warned that “no one can predict the reactions of non-Catalan populations who make up entire suburbs of Barcelona and can be aggressive.” It cited a social democratic official in Barcelona as saying, “In meetings, in cafés, we avoid talking about it and that’s for the best. It’s a powder keg.”

Yesterday, the right-wing and bitterly anti-Catalan independence daily El Mundo published a poll showing broad opposition in Spain to Madrid’s crushing of Catalan self-rule. Despite a month of wall-to-wall anti-Catalan propaganda in the press by papers like El Mundo, only a small minority of Spaniards support the onslaught against Catalonia led by Rajoy’s Popular Party, the Citizens party and the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE).

The poll found that 57 percent of Spaniards and 76 percent of Catalans wanted Catalonia to hold a peaceful referendum on independence. Large majorities opposed Catalan independence (80 percent in Spain 58 percent in Catalonia) and believed that independence was, in fact, impossible (71 percent in Spain and 56 percent in Catalonia). But only a small minority approved a policy leading to “less self-government” in Catalonia: 27 percent in Spain and 10 percent in Catalonia.

This is a devastating popular repudiation not only of Rajoy’s crackdown, but also of the press campaign to support it based on denouncing Catalans and promoting “Spanish unity” protests attended by fascist organizations such as the Falange of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. This turn towards dictatorial forms of rule, which is unanimously supported by the EU and the major European governments, faces deep opposition among workers. This is the objective social basis for a revolutionary counteroffensive against European capitalism and its drive to dictatorship.

It is also an exposure of Puigdemont’s impotent appeals to Madrid as well as the reactionary role of Spain’s Podemos party. The latter has done nothing to mobilize its 5 million voters to oppose the turn to dictatorship in Spain, and Podemos General Secretary Pablo Iglesias has spent much of his time on the phone in talks with Rajoy. When Rajoy announced plans to the Spanish Congress to invoke Article 155, Iglesias fell in line with press demands for national unity behind the crackdown, telling Rajoy:

“Today is not a day for polemics. I want to reflect with you.”

Podemos did not capitulate to Rajoy because Rajoy’s policy was temporarily recording high poll ratings due to the neo-fascistic frenzy in the Spanish press. Rather, it capitulated because an appeal for opposition to Rajoy would have found broad support and risked provoking a confrontation between the workers and the ruling class, which Podemos, a petty-bourgeois tool of the political establishment, is determined to avoid.



Posted in Europe, SpainComments Off on Catalan Premier Appeals to EU as Opposition Mounts to Madrid’s Crackdown

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